Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

Review by Ed Sizemore

It’s been 15 years since Dreamland Japan was first published. The book has constantly been hailed as one of the foundational English-language works on manga. To celebrate the anniversary of its first publication, Stone Bridge Press is releasing a hardcover collector’s edition with a new forward and afterward.

Dreamland Japan cover
Dreamland Japan
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What a difference 15 years make. When Dreamland Japan first hit the shelves, Tokyopop didn’t exist. All manga had its art flipped and was heavily localized. Manga was only carried in comic book stores and a few independent book stores. Ninety percent of all manga readers were male. The publishers and translators didn’t think manga would ever be more than a small niche within the comic book market.

Little did Frederik Schodt know that when he published his snapshot of the Japanese manga market, he was recording the high watermark of the industry. In 1996, Shonen Jump enjoyed a circulation of six million copies. Today, that figure has just climbed back to three million. Once the sight of people reading manga was ubiquitous; now it’s rare. Manga publishers had successfully fought against any form of censorship for decades. In 2010, Tokyo passed a bill aimed at censoring the sexual content of books rated for all ages.

Dreamland Japan isn’t simply a historical artifact. Readers may be surprised to find much of the text is still relevant today. Of the 17 magazines he highlights, 13 are still in print. Of the 24 authors, only five have any work available in English. His chapter on Tezuka is still an excellent introduction to the man and his works. The way manga is written and produced hasn’t changed that drastically in 15 years, so those sections are still insightful. All told, that’s about 75% of the book.

At times, Schodt can be eerily prophetic. When speaking about lolicon, the eroticizing of prepubescent females, he says this: “Inevitably, as anime and manga become more and more mainstream, this dark side of the phenomenon will invite more and more criticism.” Wow, how true that has become. And not just in America; ask the unnamed Swedish translator who was jailed for possession of lolicon. In the new afterward, he talks about how moe has added new fuel to this fire.

Schodt even foresaw how fandom would move from online BBS and Usenet forums to independent websites. “The most popular gathering spot for manga fans in the U.S., however, is not the expensive commercial networks but the ‘Mother of all networks’ — the global Internet — and its offspring, the interactive, graphics-intensive World Wide Web.” Of course, no one saw the onset of broadband and online piracy, although in the afterward, he does discuss briefly the digital realities that manga publishers must face today.

Dreamland Japan is not just a snapshot of the manga industry in 1996. It’s still a source book for some of the more popular manga magazines and a selection of writers who have yet to see print in America. Schodt gives readers a sense that manga is a vast ocean in Japan with genres undreamed of in American comics. Dreamland Japan is recommended for all comic fans, not just for the historical information, but because Japan has truly understood that comics are only limited by our imagination. Everything can be manga, if we just have eyes to see.

(The publisher provided an electronic advance copy with notice that the final version might change.)


3 Responses to “Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga”

  1. Reeve Says:

    I’ve had my paperback copy of Dreamland Japan for years, but just last summer picked up a 1986 reprint of Schodt’s Manga! Manga! Now that was a real eye-opener! Both books are excellent, despite how much manga has changed since they were first written.

    Considering that I already have the original paperback, is this latest edition of Dreamland Japan worth getting for the new content?

  2. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Reeve,

    If the copy you have is in good condition, probably not. I’d say this is more for people that don’t already have a copy or for collectors who want to be completists. It will have a slip case so it’s perfect for libraries.

  3. Good Comics Out June 22 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] new edition of Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (Stone Bridge Press, $29.95) celebrates the 15th anniversary of its release. The industry has [...]

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